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Holocaust denial and distortion

Holocaust denial and distortion
Another dominant theme in the evolution of antisemitism in the Arab and Islamic world is the increasing preoccupation with the Holocaust. As we will now see, several attitudes evolved with regard to the Holocaust in this sphere, influenced by those we have become familiar with when discussing Holocaust denial in the West. The immediate context for this is the attempt to delegitimize Zionism and the State of Israel. If you look at the attitudes of the Arabs toward the Holocaust, we have to look at two things. One is the Holocaust is related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many Arabs associate the establishment of the State of Israel with the Holocaust. They believe that Israel would not have been established had Holocaust not taken place.
Secondly is that the Holocaust was a major cause for Western support - financial and other support - toward Israel. Many Arabs therefore see the Holocaust as such. It was an event that took place in Europe. Europeans were perpetrators. The Jews may have been the victims but those who paid the price, the political price for the Holocaust, were the Arabs, especially the Palestinians. Another point is that if you accept the Holocaust as a historical fact, then it provides some justification to Zionism and to the Jews. That is, it does provide justification to the Jewish claim that they were a persecuted nation and that there was some justification for establishing a Jewish state.
We know from historical conflicts that it is extremely difficult to accept and acknowledge that your rival has a just cause. It is a major psychological difficulty. And therefore it is extremely difficult for the Arabs to accept the Holocaust as a historical fact. There’s also another problem. There’s a certain contradiction or a problem that is difficult to understand - how can you reconcile Jewish unbelievable helplessness from 1939 to 1945 and only three years later the Jews defeat the Arabs? It somehow doesn’t fit together.
And then there were two ways to solve this problem - either there was no such thing as a Holocaust or that there’s something maybe something wrong in Arab world that enabled the Jews even at the time of the worst hour to defeat the Arabs. Since the second option is much more difficult to accept, the first option - that is, to deny the Holocaust in some extent is much easier and becomes much popular. And therefore since 1945 to the present, we can see various attitudes toward the Holocaust which are, even though some of them may be contradictory, in fact exist together.
And one is denial of the Holocaust in various means from total denial to what we can sometimes called ‘soft denial.’ That is there’re not six million but maybe only six thousand, sixty thousand. The Jews were not persecuted or not murdered because they were Jews but because they were communists or capitalists etc. This is one type.
Another approach to the Holocaust is the claim that in fact Zionism, Zionist movement collaborated with the Germans, with the Nazis in killing the Jews of Europe because the Nazis, the Nazis wanted to get rid of the Jews and the Zionists wanted to get rid of their political rivals, be it the ultra-orthodox or the Communists or others and also the Zionists wanted to push the young people toward Palestine and therefore they collaborated with the Nazis in killing the Jews. A third approach equates Zionism with Nazism both ideologically, claiming that in fact Nazism drew some of its elements from historical Judaism all since Nietzsche influenced both some Jews and the Nazis.
Therefore it shows that Judaism and Nazism or Zionism and Nazism are the same. Another such equation also equates, compares what the Nazis did or were accused of doing to the Jews with what Israel supposedly does to the Palestinians. For instance, the Gaza Strip is like the Warsaw Ghetto. Israeli prisons are like Auschwitz. By the way also Guantanamo where Americans keep Islamist prisoners are like Auschwitz. And by the way, many of these comparisons, of course, play another role - is to downplay the horror of Nazi crimes. If easily let’s say discrimination against Arabs equals the Nazi discrimination, then the Nazi discrimination was not that bad. And finally, there is justification of the whole of the Holocaust.
The Jews deserved what the Nazis did to them either because the Jews were evil, evil people throughout history or because the Jews were active against Germany, or because of Zionism. That is, what the Nazis did to the Jews, the Jews deserved it and you can say is the preprice for what the Israelis did later. Now sometimes you can have contradictions between these two elements or several elements. There was no Holocaust but the Zinoists collaborated with the Nazis in killing the Jews. There was no Holocaust but the Jews deserved it.
But we know again from history that people who are hostile to another group have no problem in holding contradictory views against the group and you can say at the same time that there was no Holocaust but the Jews deserve what they got; there was no Holocaust but we’ve paid the price. This is very typical by the way also of traditional antisemitism and it is very common in modern Arab discourse. It is important to remember that a discourse is affected and shaped by current events and is not stagnant. Though Holocaust denial is still part of the antisemitism present in this sphere researchers, have been able to trace different approaches as well.
In the last few years we started even to hear some people calling for the teaching of the Holocaust in the Arab world. This is something which had never been done and they rejected it. They are not part of the discourse of the Western world of the historiography on the Holocaust. Recently there are some changes. One of them is really the interest of scholars, of Arab scholars, especially those who live in the West, in writing about the Holocaust and about the Arab discourse on the Holocaust, which is more interesting.
This is one thing and the other thing is an attempt to see the Holocaust again as something which they have to tackle and even to teach in order to reach some humanistic and universal lessons.

Prof. Meir Litvak, Dr. Esther Webman

Several attitudes evolved with regard to the Holocaust in the Arab and Islamic World, influenced by those we have become familiar with when discussing Holocaust denial in the West.

How is Holocaust denial expressed in this sphere?


  • Gershoni, Israel, ed., Arab Responses to Fascism and Nazism (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014).

  • Litvak, Meir and Esther Webman, “Perceptions of the Holocaust in Palestinian Public Discourse,” Israel Studies, vol. 8, no. 3 (2003), pp. 123 – 140.

  • Litvak, Meir and Esther Webman, From Empathy to Denial: Arab Responses to the Holocaust (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009).

  • Webman, Esther, “The War and the Holocaust in the Egyptian Public Discourse, 1945-1947,”, in Israel Gershoni, ed., Arab Responses to Fascism and Nazism: Attraction and Repulsion (Austin: Texas University Press, 2014), pp. 243 – 270.

  • Webman, Esther, “The Roots of the Egyptian Public Discourse on Nazism and the Holocaust,” in Roni Stauber, Aviva Halamish and Esther Webman, eds., Holocaust and Antisemitism – Research and Public Discourse: Essays Presented in Honour of Dina Porat (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2015).

  • Webman, Esther, “’Stealing the Holocaust from the Jews’? The Holocaust as Metaphor in Public Discourse,” in McElligott, Anthony and Jeffrey Herf, eds., Antisemitism Before and Since the Holocaust (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), pp. 279 – 304.

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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